SARATOGA SPRINGS — Code of Honor gets his best chance to win when he’s ridden patiently by John Velazquez.
Trainer Shug McGaughey believed that his best chance to win the Travers Stakes was through a patient race schedule.
They’ll try to reap the rewards of that patience when the diminutive Code of Honor breaks from post No. 2 in the 12-horse field for the 150th Travers at Saratoga Race Course.
Code of Honor ran well in the Kentucky Derby on May 4 for owner William S. Farish, but settled for third behind Maximum Security, then was elevated to second when that one was disqualified.
Since then, he’s the only horse in the Travers field who has not raced at least twice, as McGaughey opted out of the second and third legs of the Triple Crown and settled on a spot on July 6, the Grade III Dwyer at Belmont Park.
That victory by 3 1/4 lengths will serve as the entirety of Code of Honor’s racing since the Derby, but McGaughey, who has won the Travers three times, likes the way his colt won that one-mile race and believes he has as good a shot as anyone on Saturday. Code of Honor is the 4-1 second choice on the morning line.
“With the three weeks [between the Dwyer and July 27 Jim Dandy], I was afraid that maybe I was coming back a little too quick to run in a mile and an eighth over this track,” McGaughey said Wednesday morning. “And if I was wrong, I’d be wrong on two accounts. We wouldn’t run good in the Jim Dandy, and then that would maybe knock us out for the Travers.
“Let’s just be patient and give him an opportunity and take it from there. He’s not a big, physical horse, so to be able to bang him back in three weeks and then back in four weeks would just be too much.”
Although Code of Honor skipped the Jim Dandy, he does have an affinity for Saratoga, based on a victory first time out on Aug. 18 of last year.
Coincidentally, another Travers horse, Endorsed, had won another division of that same race out of the condition book two races before.
They both went straight to the Grade Champagne at Belmont Park from there, where Code of Honor was second to close out his 2-year-old season.
He won the Fountain of Youth and was third in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park to gain enough qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, all the time using an off-the-pace style that may require some early speed from other horses in the Travers.
McGaughey said he got early signs from Code of Honor last year, after he made his way to McGaughey’s barn at the Oklahoma Training Track via Ocala, Florida, and Fair Hill in Maryland.
“I worked him here one day the first time, and he was really, really good,” McGaughey said. “And he galloped out even better. From the wire to the three-quarter pole was the best part of his work.”
This year, Code of Honor has continued to train on the Oklahoma, and post a 49.27 for four furlongs in his final serious pre-Travers breeze on Monday.
“[Lacking] the race over the track doesn’t bother me, because he did break his maiden over it,” McGaughey said. “And I’ve had a lot of experience with running horses over this main track that haven’t been over it. Because I’ve always been stabled over here and trained here.
“So that really hasn’t been a worry. Hopefully, I’m good enough at what I can do that I can get him fit enough to run in the Travers. But he likes to train. So it’s not a matter that I’ve got to piddle with him a whole lot. When it comes time to work him, he can work.”
In the Kentucky Derby, Code of Honor actually moved up from 10th on the inside to lead a mile into the mile-and-a-quarter race and was inside of Maximum Security when he made his move to the front.
In the Dwyer, he came from last place in the six-horse field and circled the field on the turn. Velazquez dropped his whip in the stretch, but didn’t need it as he hand-rode the even-money betting favorite to a smooth, convincing victory.
“He had trained really well leading up to the Dwyer, and I would’ve been disappointed if he hadn’t run well,” McGaughey said. “I just liked the way he sort of hung around in the back, and when it came time to make his run, he made it, he made it quick, and he got it over with quick.
“I liked what I saw. I think he made mental improvement that I was needing to see, and I think he’s done that since the Dwyer.”
McGaughey said the mile-and-a-quarter Travers distance shouldn’t be an impediment, since “he’s by Noble Mission, who ran long on the grass in Europe.”
“He’s a one-run horse, and you’ve just got to be patient with him and get him a trip. In the Derby, I’m not trying to stand here and say he might have won but he was compromised a little bit when the horse [Maximum Security] came back over. I think he flinched a little bit from that and it took away from his run just a little bit.”
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